When Don Hodor founded the Southpointe Chamber of Commerce in 1996, only two people were involved with the fledgling organization.
It would take a decade, but he eventually built a business networking group of 600 people from the tri-state area, with another 5,500 business contacts on a regional mailing list.
Despite its name, the Southpointe Chamber isn’t a chamber of commerce, but a networking platform for its members, who come from businesses of all types, a distinction that its founder readily acknowledges.
“Every day I have breakfast with somebody I’ve never met, or I have lunch with somebody I’ve never met, and they connect to people who come to our events,” said Hodor, 63, a telecommunications engineer who operates Southpointe Telecom Technology.
The Southpointe Chamber group added members slowly over the years, said Hodor, but gained traction about 2008, when oil and gas drilling companies and their supply chain partners began moving into Washington County – and Southpointe in particular.
In fact, the booming energy market gave Hodor the idea to form Marcellus Shale Chamber of Commerce.
Hodor has continued to expand the Southpointe Chamber into other areas that are of interest to business people in the tri-state area.
His latest involves a move to downtown Washington, which representatives of other business groups said could help the business district find ways to move forward.
Hodor, who recently opened an office for the newly formed Washington County Business Association in The George Washington hotel, will hold a networking breakfast there May 30.
Earlier this month, he also formed the Racetrack Road Business Association to underscore to network members the possible business opportunities that exist in the milelong corridor that includes The Meadows Racetrack & Casino and Tanger Outlets.
“We believe in creating excitement. We cater to any entrepreneur who wants to do business in Washington County,” he said in explaining his strategy of establishing a presence in the county’s various business hot spots.
It appears to be a strategy that works. Hodor notes that a breakfast or lunch usually draws 150 to 200 members.
When asked if his organization competes with the 1,100-member Washington County Chamber of Commerce, which is headquartered in Washington but recently opened a branch office in Southpointe, Hodor said it doesn’t.
“We love the Washington County Chamber of Commerce,” he said, adding that he is a member.
He estimated that there is only about an 80-member overlap between his organization and the county chamber, which is also the economic development arm for Washington County.
He notes that while the Southpointe Chamber holds breakfast and lunch meetings to discuss business, much as the county chamber does, the comparison stops there.
“Our job is connecting people in business,” Hodor said, explaining that after a brief introduction at a meeting, the remainder of each event is for members to network.
Also unlike the county chamber, which is a nonprofit organization, Hodor’s operation is for-profit, but he said it earns very little money.
Most of the proceeds, he said, goes toward purchases of audio-video equipment that is used to promote the group’s website, which it also maintains.
The Southpointe Chamber has two paid employees, but Hodor said he does not draw a salary from it.
Washington County Chamber President Jeff Kotula said Hodor’s move to hold some events in Washington should be helpful to the city.
“It is commendable that the Southpointe Chamber has chosen to refocus its attention away from Southpointe and locate in downtown Washington,” Kotula said. “Knowing Don, he will fully engage with groups such The Whiskey Rebellion Festival, Washington Business District Authority, Coro Civic Leadership Initiative and the Highland Ridge Community Development Corporation to participate actively in the revitalization of our downtown.”
Peter Stefansky, the Washington Business District’s manager, said last week he hadn’t talked with Hodor about Washington County Business Association, but said it could present a new opportunity for downtown business people to connect.
“Anything like that is always a good thing,” Stefansky said, noting that about 50 people interested in helping the business district move forward attended a webinar last week.
“I think this is a great opportunity,” he said.
For more information on the Washington County Business Association, access the website www.washcobiz.com or call 724-873-7777.